Bipartisan Thune bill reforms USDA disaster assistance programs

In advance of the current Farm Bill’s expiration in September 2023, U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-SD) recently proposed bipartisan legislation to improve the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) disaster assistance programs.

“These commonsense updates to disaster programs would help provide greater and expedited assistance to farmers and ranchers when they need it the most,” said Sen. Thune, who on Sept. 29 sponsored the Livestock Disaster Assistance Improvement Act, S. 5023, with original cosponsor U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM). 

Both senators serve on the U.S. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee and want to improve the effectiveness and timeliness of multiple USDA programs that assist farmers and ranchers in the aftermath of adverse weather events, according to their offices. 

If enacted, S. 5023 also would provide USDA with direction to help improve the accuracy of the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM), which triggers certain disaster programs, a bill summary provided by Sen. Thune’s office says. 

“South Dakota farmers and ranchers are all too familiar with working through extreme weather conditions, especially drought,” said Sen. Thune. “Our proposal would also make the Drought Monitor a more effective tool and help ensure USDA programs are using accurate and consistent data in administering programs that are designed to help the agriculture community.”

The legislation also would reform the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) and Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP) by clarifying that state and federal grazing permit holders are eligible for these programs, the summary says, and would streamline the ECP and EFRP permitting process.

Among several other provisions, S. 5023 also would reform the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-raised Fish Program, and expand honey producer coverage for losses and costs, including transportation related to adverse weather and drought, states the summary.

S. 5023 has been referred for consideration to the U.S. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee.